Why is the application of 3D Bioprinting important in Drug Development?


Drug development is a time-consuming and expensive process that proceeds through several stages from target identification to lead discovery and optimization, preclinical validation, and clinical trials, ending up in approval for clinical use. It is well known that 90 percent of drugs that reach clinical stage development never make it to FDA approval and commercialization. The cost of a failed drug is between $800m and £1.4bn. With this low success rate in clinical trials, drug discovery remains a slow and costly business. Hence, there is an urgent need for new technologies which can mitigate the risk of failures.

3D bioprinting is one of the most promising areas expected to improve the success rates in drug development. Whilst most people start to imagine printed human organs for transplanting into the patients when they hear the word bioprinting, in realitywe probably won’t see 3D printed, transplantable human organs for many years yet. Internal organs are more complex than simply printing layers of cells into the shape of a kidney or liver. They need to have nerves and blood vessels to function and survive, and bioprinting technology still has a way to go before reaching the required level of complexity.

The most realistic application of 3D Bioprinting in this decade will most likely be  in drug discovery and development. In the pharma industry, the companies test drugs on animals before the drugs go to expensive clinical trials. However, the human physiology is very different from that of test animals, so what works in an animal, will not necessarily be effective in a person.

Bioprinting can be used to print a range of 3D culture systems and human tissue models to produce better in vitro testing by generating models with improved physiological relevance and high reproducibility. By applying bioprinting in drug discovery and development organisations can identify ineffective or harmful drugs earlier in the discovery process and shift their resources to more promising drug candidates. They can also reduce the cost of drug development caused by clinical trial failures.

Organovo’s bioprinted ExVive liver tissues have already proven useful in preclinical toxicology assessment. According to Organovo, the market for liver and kidney in vivo tissue testing is currently valued at close to $3 billion combined1. 3D bioprinting has also been shown to enable the investigation of cancer progression, including tumour heterogeneity, cancer metastasis, and patient specific anticancer drug testing. As bioprinting proves to be a cost-effective and efficient solution, its value in this field is expected to grow from the current $11 million to several hundred millions of dollars over the next decade1.


1SmartTechMarkets (2017) Use Of 3D Bioprinting In Drug Discovery And Cosmetics Testing Expected To Reach $500 Million By 2027 [link]


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